Jimmy deCastro is 2-for-2.
DeCastro, who oversees 670 The Score, has hit on two new combinations for the midday and afternoon shows. Despite initial fan furor on social media regarding the changes, which began March 14, the spring ratings book (March 29-June 20) released this week shows the station handily ahead of its sports-talk competitor, ESPN 1000.
DeCastro will be tested again with his upcoming change on the morning show, removing Score original and former Sun-Times reporter Brian Hanley. The summer ratings book comes out Sept. 12, and it will be interesting to see if deCastro can go 3-for-3.
But the numbers back up his first two moves at The Score since taking over as senior vice president and market manager of Entercom’s seven Chicago radio stations. In the key demographic of men 25-54, Dan Bernstein and Connor McKnight led their midday time slot 4.2-3.4, and Dan McNeil and Danny Parkins led theirs in the afternoon 5.1-4.4. The Score hadn’t beaten ESPN 1000 in the afternoon in more than two years.
Taking Hanley out of the “Mully and Hanley” show with Mike Mulligan might be the riskiest move of the three. They have consistently walloped ESPN’s national show, winning the spring book 6.9-2.7. In fact, the show was second in the market overall (behind Mexican regional station WOJO-FM 105.1) and first in the winter book.
“We don’t make decisions in a vacuum,” said deCastro, a 30-plus-year veteran of Chicago radio. “This isn’t deCastro riding in on a horse with a black hat on and an eye patch on going, ‘I’m going to shoot it up with AM-1000.’ That’s not the way we do things. We analyze it, we research it. We think it through. Will we take risks? Yes. That’s why we’re successful.”
Tribune columnist David Haugh is the favorite to replace Hanley. DeCastro said Haugh, who has been a regular fill-in on the show, hasn’t been hired yet. He said the station still is talking to others but is working to bring Haugh into the fold full-time. DeCastro said it’s important to the station that Hanley, whose last regular show likely will be July 27, stays “part of the family.”
Considering The Score’s lead in the time slot and lack of local competition, it might not miss a beat. But Mulligan and Hanley have been working mornings together for more than a decade, and they’ve built a loyal following. You have to wonder how listeners will accept another change.
DeCastro is undaunted.
“The simple facts are, our overall audience is 2½ times what [ESPN 1000] is, having nothing to do with Cubs baseball,” said deCastro, whose station is the Cubs’ flagship. “The facts are that there are many more listeners that like what we’re doing, and there are more listeners now that like what we’re doing than what we were doing [before].”
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Haugh’s assumed ascension has led some to believe deCastro is trying to turn The Score into The Game, the sports station he created as president of WGN Radio that lasted nine months in 2014. Haugh and McKnight appeared on what was WGWG-LP 87.7, a low-powered TV station heard on the FM dial. Haugh hosted mornings with current ESPN 1000 host David Kaplan on a show that was simulcast on then-Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
“It’s ridiculous,” deCastro said of the belief. “The Game was a pure experiment of a television format to try and drive some imaging on FM. It was a horrible signal. All we were trying to do was be younger and different. Kap and Haugh together on TV and radio was really great. I want to replace that model. I intend to do that with The Score.”
So what’s the impetus behind all of these changes? It has to do with the competition even before deCastro arrived, and it has to do with The Score itself.
“I think [ESPN 1000], before I got here, tried to become the fun station,” deCastro said. “Ever since I’ve been here, it’s a different air of driving to a much more friendly and a much happier and quite frankly younger audience.
“It isn’t about play-by-play baseball. Play-by-play is one part of it that can help drive marketing for your station. We have repositioned The Score as the younger, more fun, hipper radio station only seven months into that repositioning.”
DeCastro talked about Entercom’s desire to “play offense” rather than wait for changes to become necessary. He spoke of “playing the hits.” In other words, sticking to sports. And he talked about “being everywhere,” engaging listeners on multiple platforms.
“Bernstein’s rejuvenated and far better, and they’re talking sports,” deCastro said. “And McKnight is challenging him on wit and challenging him on the knowledge that they both have. They’re really improving. And I still think [‘McNeil and Parkins’] hasn’t hit its stride yet.”
“Why did I make the changes? We needed to be young, we needed to have more fun. Our cross talks explode now. We needed more content to be able to drive. I’m deeply down in trying to continue to make this hipper and younger and better and engage people in more and different ways.”
Score original Terry Boers returns to the station Monday through Wednesday, reuniting with Dan McNeil on the afternoon show while Danny Parkins is on vacation. Boers and McNeil formed the successful “Heavy Fuel Crew” at the station in the 1990s.